Elite paedophile ring that targeted orphans is jailed
TO MOST people, Portugal's state-run orphanages seemed like a safe haven for thousands of children who had been robbed of their parents. They were called the Casa Pia, or Houses of the Pious.
But for an elite paedophile ring, which included a former ambassador and a prominent television celebrity, Casa Pia orphanages were something entirely different.
They were supermarkets stocked with children to abuse. Yesterday, at the conclusion of the longest trial in Portugal's history, seven defendants were convicted of using the orphanages to rape and abuse scores of teenage boys in a case that has sent shockwaves through the country's political elite and raised serious concerns over the efficiency of Portugal's judiciary. Six of the seven were given jail terms of between five and 18 years.
The trial, in Lisbon's top criminal court, is thought to be the largest ever undertaken by Portugal's court system. Over fiveand-half years, more than 800 witnesses, including 32 alleged victims, gave evidence detailing how a paedophile ring used the orphanages to source children for wealthy and influential clients. The sentencing document alone, of which judges spent most of yesterday reading a summary, runs to 2,000 pages.
Two of those found guilty included Carlos Cruz (68), a popular television chat-show host with 30 years in show business, and Jorge Ritto, a former ambassador once sent home in disgrace from a posting in Germany over allegations that he had been having an improper relationship with a young boy in a park.
Their co-defendants included Carlos Silvino, an orphanage driver who would ferry children to paedophile houses; Joao Ferreira Diniz, a prominent doctor who often deliberately picked out deaf and dumb children; Manuel Abrantes, a former deputy principal at an orphanage; solicitor Hugo Marcal and Gertrude Nunes, the only female defendant who allowed her house to be used by the paedophile ring.
The successful convictions, eight years after the paedophile scandal was exposed, is a major victory for Portuguese police, under intense criticism over their handling of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. One of the lead detectives in the Casa Pia case, Paulo Rebelo, also investigated the Madeleine McCann disappearance after the original lead investigator was sacked. Rebelo and his team of forensic investigators, called "the cleaners" because they leave no stones unturned, are said to have played a pivotal role in securing the convictions.
But the trial was dogged by accusations that witnesses had been intimidated, and allegations that senior politicians turned a blind eye to the abuse to protect friends.
Reports that paedophiles were using Casa Pia orphanages to source victims surfaced in the early 1980s but they were swept under the carpet. Teresa Costa Macedo, a senior government official, said she informed the country's then president, General Ramalho Eanes, and provided photographic evidence. But the photographs were "lost" by police and Mrs Macedo said she was also intimidated by phone calls from anonymous callers. "They said they would kill me, flay me and a lot of other things," she recalled.
The current trial began in 2004 after a lengthy investigation started by nine boys who had been at one of the homes in Lisbon accused several people of sexual abuse between 1998 and 2001. Their decision to come forward prompted hundreds more witnesses to speak out and has lead to a tripling in the number of child-abuse investigations across Portugal.
Victims have told investigators that abuse at Casa Pia orphanages, of which there about 10 around the country, occurred as far back as the 1970s but most witness testimonies used for the trial came from victims who were abused during the 1990s.